Driving narrative through typography


Strong design and branding elements, as well as humour and good storytelling, characterise Tennant McKay’s new television commercials for Canadian telecommunications company Shaw.

Wanting to break the retail advertising mould and doing away with the traditional price-driven approach, Shaw aimed to adopt a casual, conversational approach to its advertising. Multi-disciplinary design company Tennant McKay developed a 3D type animated narrative with 2D character animated sub-narrative. Called Kung Fu, the commercial takes place in an abstract, flat colour and graphic world.

According to Tennant McKay director, Hilton Tennant Shaw’s previous commercials communicated through typography rather than the spoken word, an approach they wanted to continue. “However, for their new communication, their agency in Canada, BBDO Toronto, wanted to add supporting design elements to help tell the story and keep the viewers interested.

“Given that the main narrative in this spot is told predominantly through typography, our approach was to treat the type as objects, or as the main characters within the narrative. For this reason it was also important to render the 3D type beautifully, adding in reflections and treating the type as real objects, even though they were in an abstract space.

“The sub-narrative character animation was approached in a similar manner: we stripped the elements down to the absolute essentials needed to tell the story. Our approach for the characters was to develop them in a way that complements the style of both the typography and the supporting iconographic elements. By doing this we are able to shift the focus from the typography to the characters without jarring the viewer.’

Shaw has commissioned a further three spots – Digital TV, Paperboy and Jetman – which were produced over a four month period.

For Digital TV, BBDO Toronto wanted to retain the Kung Fu style of using typography to drive the narrative, but sought to introduce a sense of spectacle and more colour variety into the mix. They also wanted to drive the “extras’ offering home, while maintaining a stylised clean look.

For Paperboy and Jetman, the agency briefed in two humourous, entertaining and charming scripts that were in a different realm to the previous spots, which told their story through character driven narratives, rather than using typography.

Tennant McKay executive producer Robyn Jephson points out that creating jobs of this calibre is always a challenge when you are not able to sit in the same room as your client for key processes like pitching and approvals. “It is much easier to get a client excited about a treatment when you are able to interact face to face, so our presentations have to not only be thorough and clear, but the frames on the page almost need to do the selling for us.

“For Shaw, we didn’t have the opportunity to sit and make changes with the client present, so we had to schedule very specific approval steps throughout the process. But this forced us to work much more systematically, and to run the production like clockwork. The turn-around times were quite quick, so we also needed to plan the production pipeline during the pitching process, so that once a treatment was approved, we had a lot of our processes set up and ready to roll.


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